3 minutes of Exercise a week
You may have heard some of murmurings in the press at the moment do with the 3-minute exercise protocol? If you haven’t it all revolves around the program BBC Horizon: The Truth About Exercise. It was presented by Dr. Michael Mosley and all in all was a pretty good rounded view.
The research basically proved that taking yourself to the absolute maximum exertion for a total of 1 minute in 20 second bursts three times per week had nearly all the health benefits (not the ascetic I hasten to add) and more so than completing 4 hours steady state cardiovascular training per week- the benefits were- glucose release from the muscle stores, and increasing insulin sensitivity by an average of 24%. Vo2 Max (the bench mark of cardiovascular performance) was also increased in around 15% of participants.
The other basic tenant was that genetically people are very different- there are some that respond extremely well to any training stimulus. They grouped people into responders and non-responders. Responders being those who’s Vo2 max was markedly increased by the high intensity interval training HIIT. This was the above 15% percentile. And non-responders who saw little or no increase.
So what does this all mean for your average Jo? Does this mean they can all pack up their training kit, chuck in their sweat towel and head home to the couch- thankfully not. Lets look at it in a bit more detail.
First up the idea that HIIT training is far better for you than long steady state training is not new. Well at least not amongst more informed trainers and trainees! I’ve never advocated long steady state running or any type of long steady state CV. Not only does it wear your joints away- just check out my dad- he was a competitive triathlete and marathon runner- now nearly every joint in his body is being replaced through wear, long steady state training also raises cortisol- the stress hormone within the body.
When left to rage unabated cortisol not only is bad for health but also causes fat storage especially around the abdomen- how many fat runners have you seen- I’ve seen lots. Cortisol also is responsible for muscle and strength deterioration. I’ve always advised my clients to work on HIIT principles for improving VO2 Max- either in sprints, heavy kettlebell work and full body plyometrics and other savagely taxing means.
What the study also doesn’t do is look at the right amount of HIIT. All the study does do is prove that HIIT is far better than long steady state training.
I can guarantee that yes the responder group increased their VO2 max by performing the HIIT on the given protocol (the 3 minutes) and there was a marked improvement against the other responder group in the long steady state training group, but what the study doesn’t look at significantly is what if you actually increase the amount of HIIT the individual is performing and not just perform the minimum. I can assure you that if the responder group performed 6-8 rounds of the HIIT protocol so 8 minutes of all out hit 3 times per week their increase in VO2 max would have been massive. Also I can assure them that if they had made the non responder group treble their level of HIIT in the week they would have seen a good improvement in this test group too- yes not as much as the responder group but still a marked improvement.
I’ve trained so called non responders- in fact 50% of my clients could fall into this group- I’ve taken people who are in no way genetically gifted and pushed their Vo2 max to levels that would put most people to shame. But it does take more HIIT training than 3 minutes per week. Sometimes it takes a lot more. But improvements are always made with hard work. Of course there will be those who excel on even the tiniest stimulus- we can all envy them but for the rest of us it takes more work. This is where I feel this study is slightly dangerous and misleading. It gives people the chance to lump themselves in with the non -responders and so feel more HIIT exercise isn’t beneficial. Luckily this isn’t the case you just have to do the right exercise- in this case more HIIT and not long steady training training. Not only that but more HIIT would increase muscular strength, endurance, power and bring about muscular growth if the right exercises were chosen so why wouldn’t you do more when you would achieve all these benefits along with the VO2 max increases- why would you just settle for increased insulin sensitivity and glucose response??
I also had one last comment about the program. The trouble is with true HIIT is that it is painful. Very painful. More painful than most people can bear- and there’s the rub. Most people- your average man or woman will in no way be able to take themselves to the level that is needed in that 20 seconds to be a true HIIT interval. Some will but most won’t. This is where my job as a trainer comes in to take people beyond that threshold, to enter in where your brain wants to shut off and shut the body down. When your brain is saying no, I say yes, and keep you working- few people have the ability alone to take themselves to the limit that is needed to be a true HIIT interval to do so you have to like pain and be really used to it- yes your brain does adapt to deal with the pain of training- but that takes a lot of time and most people never reach it unless they have been pushed their regularly by someone else or born in a with strange masochistic nature- myself included!